I really like Jon Lovett’s wit and writing style. He’s funny, and he has good ideas, too. I can’t really buy his argument, though, that we should all stop trying to tell each other to shut up. Don’t get me wrong, I understand what he’s saying and I get his point. But, there’s a reason that we strongly discourage racist language, and the same principle is now being applied to anti-gay language.
I know that you can find many places still today where people gather and say racist things, and everyone seems to be okay with it. But there are fewer of those places than there used to be. And, because of that, fewer people are exposed to that garbage and fewer people think it’s normal to be a racist. I prefer it this way, because I don’t want there to be “safe” places to be a racist. I don’t want racism to be “normal.” And, while I acknowledge that this taboo doesn’t eradicate racism and often pushes it just below the surface where you need dog ears to hear it, the overall effect is there are fewer racists.
Now, two minutes ago, it was “normal” to oppose gay marriage. Suddenly, people are turning around and saying that only bigots oppose gay marriage. Is this really so different from how the country turned on a dime to accept interracial marriage? Is it fair to switch standards so quickly?
The principle here is full equality and the right to love and live with whomever you choose. How does that stack up against Lovett’s argument?
The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it on that list, to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument; don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won.
A little earlier in his argument, Lovett said the we don’t want people to play it safe with their ideas. We don’t want them to be safe, he said. But my take is that he’s right, we don’t want people to feel like it’s safe to deny people full equality. And it’s not safe. Not anymore. So, how is that not progress?
It’s not like opposition to interracial marriage disappeared overnight. And it’s not like shame had nothing to do with getting our society to accept interracial marriage.
If I could tweak Lovett’s argument a little bit to make it more amenable, I’d say that we ought to try to be a little more charitable to each other. We don’t have to scream that someone is a bigot if they are a little behind the times. But we don’t have to shut up about it, either. As Lovett says, he’s not going to shut up and neither are the idiots. Neither are the people arguing for full equality.
In the end, you can’t get people to stop telling each other to shut up by telling people to shut up. If full equality is what’s right, people ought to fight for it, and make sure there is a price for trying to deny people what they ought to have.